A motorcycle trip to the Mae Sa waterfalls was the first daytrip we shared with my Thai boyfriend exactly eight years ago. I have been reluctant to return ever since.
Now that I eventually did, I am looking for familiar landmarks – a rock, a pool of water, a twisted branch, something that may remember me and my footprint, but everything seems new, unfamiliar, as if I have never been here.
I am sitting by a thundering waterfall, enjoying that it is louder than my rambling thoughts that never leave me alone. I am wondering if fish hear the water at all – or maybe for them, this roaring sound is silence itself – the only reality they know.
I take photos – hundreds of them. On the little screen, the falling water is motionless for a split second, giving the funny little illusion that I can escape impermanence. I press the button again and again in a vain attempt to stop the water from falling, to freeze it in mid-air, playing with the thought that it may even un-fall if I try hard. The water laughs at me and thunders on, and I laugh at the water, in the end.
The little stream flows, falls, thunders, sings, meanders on and on, for decades, centuries, millennia. The photos – imperfect, fragile memories of the moment, remain. I wish I could hold on to more. Just enough to fill my cup with.
Then I put my camera down and plunge into the water. Unexpectedly, time stops while everything is moving and I swim against the current. This is as close as I ever get to permanence.
I find out later that one of my kids from school was watching me from the bridge. “You are so funny”, she says. I wish I could remember….
If you would like to be down-to-earth…. Mae Sa waterfalls are not the picture perfect azure waters that you see all over Thailand. The falls are not especially tall or spectacular, the pools could be deeper or slower. It is simply a wonderful little piece of nature, ideal for relaxing in the shade for a few hours on a lazy weekend, or as a quick stop on the Samoeng loop. The walking trail is 1 km long along the stream, steep at times but quite nice and easy, manageable even without shoes as any Thai teenager will show you. There are well-placed viewpoints on the edge of the stream and at the top – waterfall number 10.
Mae Sa waterfalls are about 20 kms from Chiang Mai, 5 kms along the Mae Rim-Samoeng road. Tickets are 50 baht for foreigners, that is much better than the 200 baht they used to charge years ago. There is no parking outside, so you need to fork out a further 20 baht for your motorcycle or 50 baht for your car. Parking lot 3 is the closest to the waterfalls; however, if you would like to fully explore both banks, leave your vehicle at parking lot 1. There are shops selling souvenirs and food. The lower levels are popular with Thai families at the weekends. Shallow and deeper pools are suitable for swimming, just keep an open eye for the bilingual noticeboards telling you where not to swim.
I have posted more photos at the Chiang Mai Forum. This location is also marked on our Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand map.